In February 1954, Stan Getz and the George Shearing Quintet were booked on the same bill for a series of West Coast concerts produced by Gene Norman. On the bus trip from Portland to Seattle, Getz tried to kick his heroin habit. The tenor saxophonist intended to be clean before the likelihood of drawing jail time following a user conviction in Los Angeles.
When the band bus arrived in Seattle, Getz attempted to hold up a drugstore for a morphine capsule and was arrested. The Seattle charges were dropped, however, when Getz pulled a six-month term at a Los Angeles prison hospital for his earlier crime. Cal Tjader was Shearing's vibraphonist on that tour and had made the tormented bus trip with Getz.
Fast forward four years to the month. Getz and Tjader were in San Francisco appearing at the Black Hawk, and found time to record for Fantasy. As Doug Ramsey writes in his fine liner notes for the newly remastered Stan Getz/Cal Tjader Sextet (Concord) a drug-free Getz brought bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Billy Higgins to the date while Tjader rustled up pianist Vince Guaraldi and guitarist Eddie Duran.
The result is an extraordinary album documenting Getz in all his swinging glory between his bop and bossa periods. To hear this album so sonically dynamic is a true treat. Both Getz and Tjader are on top of their jazz games, as are their sidemen. Both Getz and Tjader are frighteningly confident and ferociously aggressive during their improvised passages.
Getz is particularly thrilling, rising and soaring throughout. This album confirms yet again that Getz was, pound for pound, the most exciting exponent of the Lester Young sound. You just can't believe your ears when Getz blows, and his lines touch your heart at every turn.
Tjader was the perfect foil for Getz, providing a cool backdrop but often slugging it out punch for punch with Getz for solo supremacy. You realize here just how good Tjader was, qualities that weren't fully captured later on in his more commercial releases.
Dig Getz and Tjader on the vibraphonist's brisk and intricate composition Big Bear. Or the speed and daring of Getz's ideas on Ginza Samba, which foreshadows his Brazilian period. Guaraldi is no slouch either, as the solo on his composition Ginza Samba demonstrates. Same goes for the strong rhythm guitar work of Duran on the track.
Tjader's exciting attack during his solo on Ginza Samba is evidence of his deft, just-enough style. And Tjader's Liz-Anne exhibits yet again the vibist's strength—as a player but also as a composer. Getz eats up the song's waltz-time tempo, skipping along with an endless string of melodic ideas.
This is an absolutely perfect recording on every level. It's just a shame they didn't screw up. There are no alternate takes.
JazzWax tracks: Stan Getz/Cal Tjader Sextet from February 1958 has been remastered and reissued by Concord. You'll find this one here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Vince Guaraldi's Ginza Samba, taken at an impossible speed. Dig the blowing and ideas here. By the way, this is an earlier release, not the new one. On the reissue, Getz and Tjader sound as if they're in the room...